Sapiosexual: What It Is and What Does It Mean To Be One?

sapiosexual, love and brain, intelligence

Aside from the traditional sexual orientations like heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, there has been a rise of sexualities across the spectrum. Some people identify as asexual, and some as pansexual. And there are others who see themselves demisexual. In recent years, more and more people are labeling themselves as sapiosexual.

Oscar and Grammy-winning music producer and recording artist Mark Ronson made waves when he opened up as a sapiosexual in September 2019. Last year, French equality minister Marlène Schiappa also announced that she was a sapiosexual. But what is the meaning of sapiosexual?

What does Sapiosexual mean?

Do you feel burning lust when you engage in intense brainy debates? Do you get all hot and bothered when a person shares their deep philosophical thoughts with you? If you are, you may very well be a sapiosexual.

While there may not be a firm consensus on its definition, several sexologists define sapiosexuality as a sexual attraction to a person’s mind — their intelligence. Simply put, a deep intellectual discussion about the environment or politics turns sapiosexuals on.

Sapio is derived from the Latin word sapere, which means wise or intelligent. Sapiosexual may seem like a recent trending term, but it has its origins dating back to 1998. LiveJournal writer Wolfieboy, vexed about the lack of terms to describe his sexual preference, coined the word “sapiosexual”.

On the surface, sapiosexuality sounds like a brilliant label. If you are into intelligence, it means you are not superficial! On top of that, as many studies show, intellect is found to be directly correlated to humor.

People also started believing that intelligence is connected to other desirable traits found in a partner, such as emotional maturity. However, when you look deeper into what construes intelligence, you will realize that intelligence is not a simple measurable scale.

Moreover, despite its prominence, a large group of detractors constantly mock this term. Many view sapiosexuals as elitists, classists, racists, and ableists. Others see it as a fad popularized by dating apps.

Indeed, the term rocketed to fame in the 2000s when dating app OkCupid added sapiosexuality as a sexual orientation to its app in 2014. And Sapio, launched in 2017, prides itself as a dating app for the intellectually evolved.

Is Sapiosexuality a Real Sexuality?

The surge in popularity of sapiosexuality in recent years seems to imply that intelligence is a legitimate sexual attraction. And yet there hasn’t been sufficient research on sapiosexuals to give a definite answer.

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The difficulty in measuring intelligence.

One reason hindering research is that intelligence is simply impossible to measure. While most self-identified sapiosexuals talked about the importance of intellectually stimulating conversations, there are many types of intelligence.

Some highly intelligent people just happen to be dyslexic or autistic. And some people may not be book smart, but display amazing talent in the arts. Once you discard a stereotypical view of intelligence, you will find that you can’t measure intelligence for it comes in many forms.

It is also difficult to evaluate intelligence as people have different ideas of what it means to be intelligent. Some value emotional intelligence while others may see comedic intelligence as a sex appeal. Teresa Sheffield, a comedian who identifies as sapiosexual, said that if a person lacks a sense of humor, she will be as “attracted to you as I am to a Border collie”.

In other words, our definitions of intelligence are relative to our own. We are all attracted to people who share similar interests as us and like the same “intelligent” things we like.

Comparing sapiosexuality and other sexual orientations.

You might think that a sapiosexual would find themselves stimulated only by a person’s brilliant mind. A research conducted at the University of Western Australia in 2017 proved otherwise. The researchers found that while there is some evidence of sexual attraction to intelligence, other aspects still matter.

Many self-identified sapiosexuals still find themselves attracted to only one gender. Just that instead of physical appearance like many others, they view intellect as a basis of sexual attraction.

Furthermore, sapiosexuality, unlike homosexuality or bisexuality, has no biomarkers. Homosexuals and bisexuals know their sexual orientation since childhood. On the other hand, most sapiosexuals stated that they realized they were sapiosexuals around the time they entered college.

This implies that sapiosexuality is not a biological identity, but a social identity. The exposure to further education made these people realize that they find smart people interesting and sexy.

Moreover, sexual health educators like Professor Debby Herbenick view sapiosexuality as more of a sexual preference rather than a sexual orientation. So unlike heterosexuality or homosexuality which are biological orientations, sexual preference means that it is a choice. It is not something you don’t have control over, it is just a matter of your taste.

Sociologist Catherine Hakim completely refuted the notion that sapiosexuality exists, saying that people are instantly attracted to looks within the first 30 seconds. And while sapiosexuals claim that they are more interested in a person’s intellect over appearance, people who identified as sapiosexuals in an interview conceded that to a certain extent, looks still matter to them.

Just What is Sapiosexual?

If sapiosexuality is not a true sexuality, you might start to wonder, what is sapiosexuality then?

Sapiosexuality is the glorification of intelligence
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Sapiosexuality is the glorification of intelligence.

Some people see it as an aggrandization of a mundane aspect of love. In long-term relationships, everyone looks for the same things that a sapiosexual seeks — deep and meaningful conversations, sharing of the same values, the challenge to develop the best version of yourself.

From this perspective, sapiosexuals are not much different from demisexuals who are sexually attracted to people they share a strong emotional connection with.

In fact, sapiosexuals are just like any human out there looking for an intellectually compatible long-term partner! Ask yourself, would you be able to live with someone you have absolutely nothing in common to talk about?

Sapiosexuals might think of themselves as a unique group fixated on intelligence. Yet, most people actually look at intelligence when they are finding potential partners to spend the rest of their lives with. A research conducted in 2013 demonstrated that both men and women view intelligence as a critical aspect when they choose their partners.

Sapiosexuals may also insist that they are different as they are specifically turned on by what’s on the inside rather than a person’s looks. But most people also look at personality traits beyond physical attributes.

Some find ambitious people devastatingly sexy. Others cannot resist the magnetic pull of an adventurous person. We all have different inner qualities that we find irresistible. So it simply doesn’t make sense to create a new sexual orientation just for people who love intelligence!

Sapiosexuality is a social construct for people frustrated with online dating.

Most scientists see it as a sexual preference, but could there be more behind this recently popular term? After all, it only started trending in recent years, which suggests that it is a social construct.

In this current dating app era, people tend to judge a potential partner solely on their looks — swipe right if they’re hot, swipe left if they’re not! This has led to the birth of a subset of people who reject this dating phenomenon. They see most people as superficial, whereas they are looking for an authentic connection.

Sapio’s CEO, Kristin Tyski, says, “For many, defining oneself as Sapiosexual is also a statement against the current status quo of hookup culture and superficiality, where looks are prized above all else.” Essentially, sapiosexuality is a movement against the mainstream dating culture.

In online dating where casual sex is the norm, it can be difficult to express your yearning for a deep and meaningful connection. Thus, identifying as a sapiosexual helps people looking for a more soulful connection filter out people seeking quick hookups.

Sapiosexuality is a fetish for intelligence.

And there are others who suggest that sapiosexuality is a mere fetish. Once relegated to the darkest corners of a person’s mind, you now have a legitimate term for the kinky fantasies of going down on sexy librarians and hot teachers.

And if sapiosexuality is a fetish, calling it a sexual orientation would mean that anyone’s random fetish can become a sexual orientation. Maybe if you are into bondage (we don’t judge), you can start creating a new identity for fellow BDSM fetishists called bondasexual! Or how about footasexual for foot fetishists?

You can choose your own preferred idea of sapiosexuality, for there isn’t a fixed concept even till now. And given the complexities of its definition, there might never be. But one thing is for sure. It is controversial.

What makes Sapiosexuality so Controversial?

When you identify as a sapiosexual, people may call you out for being pretentious or even discriminatory. The issue with sapiosexuality is that it gives the impression of stuffy professors who wield big words and expect people to be enamored by their big brains.

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Sapiosexuals are elitists and ableists.

Many feel that sapiosexuals are elitists who see themselves as superior to people who are into looks. They think they are smarter than most people and deserve only like-minded intellectuals with the brains to match their intelligence. And if you are a non-sapiosexual, you are merely shallow and vapid.

The wildly viral Sapiosexual Test by Lonerwolf emphasizes the imperative need for intellectual compatibility and even goes so far as to equate signs of intellect as knowing the periodic table by heart!

This narrow definition of high IQ as high intellect reveals not only an inflated self-ego but is also ableist. This spurs discrimination against people with cognitive disabilities and poor people who lack access to higher education.

Sapiosexuals downplays the marginalization of LGBTQIA+ minorities.

Associating sapiosexuals with the LGBTQIA+ community also drew flak from many in the LGBTQIA+ circle. When Mark Ronson stated that he identified as a sapiosexual, some media outlets published a very distorted view of his statement, splashing headlines of him “coming out” as a sapiosexual. This created a scathing criticism of Mark Ronson by critiques who thought that it belittles the marginalization of LGBTQIA+ people.

The LGBTQIA+ community had fought hard to establish their identities and are still fighting to this day. Even in our modern world, they still face much opposition and discrimination from society at large.

To them, there is simply no need to create a sexual orientation for a small group of privileged individuals. It is not only superfluous to do so, it also threatens the entire LGBTQIA+ community who risk being seen as mere attention seekers by the heteronormative society.

Sapiosexuals Normalize Sexual Fluidity.

In 2018, there was an over 40 percent rise in users choosing Sapiosexuals as their sexual orientation on the OkCupid app. This term is also increasingly used in other dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble. All these show that no matter how much of an affront it is to some, sapiosexuality is here to stay.

While the critiques may bemoan about it, there is still a bright side to the embracement of this label. Philosophy professor Robin Dembroff states that there is a distinct “demand being made to have more available scripts than just heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual”.

The spread of sapiosexuality and the creation of other types of sexuality actually highlights the increasing openness of society to sexual fluidity. This helps to override the prevalence of the old-fashioned notion of gender binaries in sexual identities.

And if you still feel that the sapiosexual label is insulting, why not explore a similar but more inclusive term, noetisexual? Noetisexual, invented by writer Michon Neal in 2016, is defined as a mental attraction rather than an intellectual one. It seeks to fill in the gap that sapiosexual has, by expanding the notion of intelligence as a multifaceted entity. Perhaps it is time for the world to stop slamming sapiosexuality and learn about noetisexuality.